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European lessons: Curiosity, history, and revelation
Visions of Germany and France, by Karen Owen

 Munich's Marienplatz features the Ratskeller, where conversation between tourist and resident is easy.
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Date published: 11/25/2012

IN OCTOBER, my husband and I took a break from the rhetoric of the election season and went to Bavaria and Paris. Travel is always a broadening experience--and in the case of Paris, I mean this quite literally--and we hadn't been in Europe since the onset of the Great Recession. I was curious to see for myself if this part of Europe seemed much changed--attitude-wise.

In many ways, going to Europe during the dark, rainy months of fall or late winter is preferable to being there in the summer. As in other off-season trips, we found ourselves to be among the few American tourists there, which meant the locals weren't weary of dealing with people who aren't willing to make the attempt at speaking their language or who demand washcloths in hotel bathrooms.

Our first impression of Munich was, as one might expect, one of impressive efficiency. We encountered no wait at the entry point of its airport--a far cry from interminable queues in years past at Heathrow or even the line to get into the line at Dulles to go through security to fly out of the country. Our luggage came through the chute just as we arrived at baggage claim, and we were waved immediately through customs. Fifteen minutes, tops, from plane to ground transportation.

Rather than take an expensive taxi into town, we let a clean subway whisk us from the distant airport to our downtown hotel. Recent statistics indicate that Munich has a population of 1.3 million, approximately the same as in the Richmond Metropolitan Area. But that's where the similarity ends: Greater Richmond could no more come up with such a marvelous transportation system than it could pave its streets with gold: It wouldn't have the wherewithal, and the warring city and surrounding counties wouldn't be able to agree on a plan.


The people we talked with throughout Germany were curious about the upcoming U.S. election and all things American. Germany is the rich guy on the European Union block, yet no one we spoke with seemed particularly discouraged by Germany's assistance in bailouts of the economies of Greece, Spain, and Portugal, although I know that this sentiment does exist.

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Karen Owen is Viewpoints editor of The Free Lance-Star.